A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about player buy-in. That developers should have to pay attention to this resource should be a given at this point, but what do players have to do with their investment? How should they treat it, and what does it afford them as players?
First off, I don’t think players should be stingy with their investment. It’s not something that should be hoarded or treasured without ever expending. The cool thing about investment is that nothing sells like it. When all your friends convince you you should play in and be enthusiastic about a game, you tend to listen. That doesn’t mean that you should give 110% to everything. That’s going to just drain you until you don’t care about anything, much less a game. To that end, I suggest that you at least give yourself a chance to be hooked by a game. Read its synopsis. Read a blog article about it. Listen to your friend extol its virtues. Merely hearing about it isn’t going to hurt, and it may in fact get you involved in something you’ll enjoy. But be prepared to give constructive feedback, and let the developer have a chance to better his game with it. If your friend comes running up to you and tells you that he has an amazing idea for an Exalted game, give him the chance to pitch it. When he tells you it’s an Abyssal exalted game, and you’re all playing Heroic Mortals, then you may want to tell him why it’s not your cup of tea.
Similarly, do the developer and yourself a favor: be honest about your buy-in. If you have only a little to give because of other commitments, say that at the start of any game you’re going to be playing. “You know guys, this sounds really awesome, but I’ve only got a weekend a month to devote to it. Could we make a character that doesn’t need me to be there all the time?” People (and by this, I mean the game’s storyteller or developer and the other player) will listen. Their ability to listen gets clogged by signal-to-noise ratios though, so make sure the message is heard.
With so many people involved in the creative process, telling people how you feel about investing in a game is tricky. In a tabletop game, lots of these points would be easy to consider. It’s just six people, so there’s not a lot of other opinions to take into account. If you’re a potential player in a game that meets at your friend’s Bob house every Wednesday night and you know everyone there, your communication will be relatively clear. Alternatively, when you’re part of the Mind’s Eye Society or helping to develop inXile’s next RPG, there are going to be a lot of people talking, all at once, and not all of them will want to hear you. Not all of them will be paying attention. This is not always a reason to give up though. If you are enthused about a game, if you’re prepared to invest in it, you should keep talking, and encourage people to do the same. Work out what can be done with something you’re prepared to spend time and energy on and make it the game you want to play. You have a reasonable expectation to be entertained by a game, provided that you come in good faith to the table, just like everyone else.
If, at the end, you don’t feel like you’ve been listened to, or the game isn’t going to be what you want, remember that it is just a game. This shouldn’t devalue it, or your experiences with games, but please be mindful that if the investment you’re putting into it isn’t giving you back what you want, you have every right to walk away from it, and find something else that suits you. It’s up to everyone at the table to play with each other, and create an environment to play in.
This seems like a nice place to start the discussion on investment. How do you become invested in a game? How do you encourage investment? Take a look at the new mechanics for Requiem’s Majesty Discipline and think about how the very fabric of the power requires and promotes investment on both players. The Boon system, teased about in that article, suggests that if you play along as a victim of the power, you get rewarded. Buy-in is created on the part of the user of the power, the victim of the power, and the Storyteller. Tell us your thoughts about buy-in in the comments below.